Somewhere along the way, mainstream journalism lost its way regarding climate. Journalists at the top of their game and the top of their field, lacking nothing for resources or good intentions, lost the ability to see winter, even when it was right in front of their noses.
Beyond being of interest to those who follow the media, this modern form of “snow blindness” is actually dangerous. For snow and cold are killers. Britain maintains records on cold-related deaths, which, predictably, fall disproportionately among the elderly. In that single European nation, more than 300,000 people have died during winter during the decade just ended. Tallies in the rest of Europe are similar. As for the winter just begun, it is likely to be especially deadly.
While few single weather events, months of extreme temperatures, years of abnormal temperatures, or even decades of the same can be called a change in climate without someone calling foul, the mainstream media has again and again used warm-weather events as proofs of the global warming that it would convince us of. Wildfires, Katrina, heat waves, floods, all have been laid at the feet of this modern bogeyman.
That is why the blogsosphere has come to play a vital role for those interested in both weather and climate. Sites such as wattsupwiththat.com raise the hackles of global-warming alarmists simply by reporting weather news that the mainstream media misses. While there have been many instances of “warmist” bias and “snow blindness” in the past several years, not one compares with the Northern Hemisphere winter of 2009-10.
The opening bell was a snowstorm that blanketed Colorado in October before dusting New England during a couple of notable sports events, including a nationally televised New England Patriots football game and the relatively invisible yearly rowing regatta, the Head of the Charles, with crews rowing through the heaviest snowfall ever witnessed in the 40-year-old event. While the United States, with just 4 percent of the Earth’s land mass, does not represent the wider world, it was nonetheless worth mentioning that October was the third coldest month, in our neck of the woods, ever recorded. Had the opposite been true, with the third warmest October ever seen, you can rest assured that The New York Times and other newspapers of national significance would have had the story prominently featured (rather than buried or, worse, never written at all).
After a warm November in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe (a blip of warmth attributable to the moderate El Niño in the Pacific), December started cold and stayed cold – and snowy. One ironic emblem of the weather was that of President Obama departing earlier than planned from the climate conference in Copenhagen in order to be able to touch down in Washington, D.C., before a raging blizzard made landing Air Force One impossible. The New York Times Times’ initial article about the president’s change in plans mentioned that it was a snowstorm forcing the hasty departure; later versions of the article changed the word simply to “storm.” What is this, if not an example of “snow blindness”?
Since the Blizzard of ’09, though, things have become even more serious. The sustained, aggressive cold has killed hundreds in Asia, from India to Japan, with snowfall records tumbling left and right including one in Seoul, South Korea, and another in Beijing. The state of Vermont had its single heaviest snowstorm ever from January 3 to 5. Unless a news consumer assiduously looked for this information, though, it was suspiciously easy to miss.
Journalists, needless to say, are entitled to their view that summer is perilous and worthy of greater attention than winter (although millions of people living in the Northern Hemisphere snow belt on fixed incomes would beg to differ). But this apparent preference of incipient warming has led to some bizarre instances of “journalism.” As recently as ten years ago, the UK newspaper The Independent warned its readers with the headline: “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past.” Meanwhile, municipalities throughout the United Kingdom have struggled to keep up with ice- and snow-covered roadways for the last two winters. The current winter will be remembered, too, for the glamorous Eurostar train being shut down for the first time ever, stranding tens of thousands, due to snow being sucked into the mouth of the tunnel on the French side of the English Channel.
Skeptic bloggers like to joke that “If it’s warm it’s climate, if it’s cold it’s weather.” As the dust from Climategate settles (with still not one e-mail published by The New York Times, in contravention of the paper’s own policy laid down during the Pentagon Papers-era), people around the world have begun to question the means by which a “global mean temperature” is computed. While a single harsh winter does not represent the Earth’s climate as well as other, longer-term metrics, palpable cold and cascading snow are, nonetheless, the kind of things that the average news consumer, surely, would like to know exist.